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Moment that mattered: The Rolling Stones headline Glastonbury

The Stones gave a remarkable performance at Glastonbury, and Jagger really challenged the stereotype of what people can do later in life. We’ve always had people doing extraordinary things at a relatively

old age: Gladstone was in his eighties when he became prime minister for the fourth time and Michelangelo didn’t even begin work building St Peter’s until he was into his seventies. Many of the really famous jazz performers of the 20th century were in their seventies, eighties or even older.

But to some extent being prime minister or an architect or a jazz musician are things we ‘allow’ older people to do, whereas Jagger prancing around and putting so much energy into his performance really does confront the assumptions we have about what an older person ought to be doing. The press suggested that the Stones were making fools of themselves on stage, but you could see that the audience loved them. The Daily Mail’s headline – ‘The Night of the Living Dead’ – was delightful from a literary point of view, but absolutely appalling from the perspective of actually appreciating talent and skill when it is there to be seen.

And of course it wasn’t just the Stones. Bruce Forsyth, who’s 85, gave a very well-received performance at Glastonbury too. I just think that’s absolutely admirable. He’s not my cup of tea but the fact that he can still perform and draw appreciation from all generations is a tribute to him and we must salute that continuing ability.

I hope these sorts of events will mark a shift in the national perception of older people. I’m 65, five years behind Jagger, and I certainly don’t feel old. I’ve never grown up. I think we all have impressions of ourselves as being 20 or 30 years younger than we actually are. An awful lot of people in their sixties and seventies at the moment are probably still thinking of themselves as if they were 40.

We’re going to have a lot more older people in the future than we have ever had in our history and if we’re to get the best out of them, and they are to get the best out of the longer lives they are living, then we’re going to have to change our ideas of what old age is all about.

At Age UK, we’ve been trying to make sure that older people keep up to speed with technological change by making sure that they have the skills to use the internet. It’s an area of activity that you associate with young people but we’ve got to make sure that our older generation engage with it. We run classes to help older people keep themselves physically fit and active so they can go on walks with their grandchildren without getting tired after half a mile. We’ve got to help people to stay engaged
with the world of the younger population so that both generations can benefit from doing things mutually and sharing activities together.

There is also a debate to be had about people working longer. Whether, for example, we want our firemen or our policemen to enjoy the retirement ages they have hitherto had. How would you respond if the fireman coming to rescue you from the burning house was a 70-year-old man? Is that what we are going to be getting used to after seeing Jagger refuse to retire? I do hope that there is a fit fireman somewhere of 70, even if I’m not sure I want to be the one he’s throwing over his shoulder.

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